Arafat appeals to militants to give "peace" a chance -- Urges terrorists to reinstate "Hudna Ceasefire"
28 August 2003
Jerusalem - Calling for a US-backed peace plan to get another chance, Yasser Arafat appealed to Palestinian militants to halt attacks on Israelis, while his newly appointed security adviser urged Washington to restrain Israel.
Militants formally abandoned their nearly two-month unilateral cease-fire after Israel responded to a deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem last week with missile strikes on Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.
But a Hamas leader quickly rejected a new truce. And Israel, which has tried to sideline Arafat from the "road map" peace process, dismissed it as empty rhetoric, saying the army would keep up its pursuit of terror suspects.
Arafat stepped forward with the appeal on Wednesday in a midst of a power struggle with his prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and with the United States pressing the Palestinians to act against militants, a key requirement under the creaking peace plan.
Arafat has rejected US demands he give Abbas control of key security forces that would lead any sustained crackdown, and instead appointed his own security adviser: the tough former West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub.
Rajoub openly supports the peace plan and has arrested militants in the past. But in an interview with The Associated Press, he was evasive over whether he would launch a crackdown now, and suggested Israel should stop military action first.
"The ball is now in the American court to pressure Israel and monitor the process of implementation," Rajoub said. "If Israel stops its attacks and begins to take serious steps to end the occupation, all the conditions that are demanded of the Palestinians will be fulfilled on the spot."
Abbas staked his political future on being able to rein in Palestinian militants through persuasion, rather than force. With his authority crumbling, Abbas was to present the achievements of his first 100 days in office to parliament on Monday, and aides said he was planning to seek a vote of confidence.
"All options are open," Hatem Abdel Qader, a legislator from the ruling Fatah movement, said of the outcome of a possible vote.
Snubbed Abbas' call
Israel has already snubbed Abbas' call to join any new cease-fire, demanding that instead Palestinian security forces clamp down on armed groups and carry out arrests.
But Palestinian leaders say moving forcefully against the militants in the wake of the Israeli raids could spark civil war.
In his statement on Wednesday, Arafat called on armed groups to renew their commitment to a truce and "to give a chance to political and peaceful efforts by the international community to implement the road map."
But a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip rejected new ceasefire talks, saying Israel had shattered the previous one by killing a senior Hamas leader last Thursday.
"We say it clearly that after the assassination of martyr Ismail Abu Shanab, the truce has been destroyed," Abdel Aziz Al Rantissi told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Arafat's statement was in any case meaningless. "Arafat has never stopped supporting the strategy of terror," Gissin said. "He has over 60% of the Palestinian Authority forces under his control and has done nothing with them to pursue a peaceful solution. He has no interest in a peaceful solution."
The US government, meanwhile, kept the heat on Arafat to hand over those powers and said Rajoub's arrival was a side-issue.
"What we want is to see all the Palestinian security forces consolidated under Mr. Abbas. That's the point. It's not the personality," State Department spokesperson Philip T Reeker said.
The armed groups declared June 29 that they were halting attacks on Israel for three months but later claimed the right to retaliate for Israeli military strikes.
During the cease-fire, the militants carried out three bombings, including last week's Jerusalem bus attack, which killed 21 people.
In retaliation, Israel killed Shanab in the first of three missile strikes, prompting militant groups to formally call off the truce.